Blown Off Course
Blown Off Course is the seventh in David Donachie’s adventures of John Pearce, radical, press-ganged man, and reluctant Navy officer. John has an enemy in Captain Ralph Barclay, who is responsible for his illegal enforcement into naval service. He has a love interest in Ralph’s wife, Emily. He has money troubles because his war prizes are trapped in labyrinthine administrative processes. And he has some compelling missions: to bring Ralph to book for his crimes, release Emily from her brutal husband, and obtain freedom for his three friends and fellow press-gangees.
John is in a briny pickle, and a reader starting mid-series might have found it impossible to grasp the situation if the author hadn’t provided plenty of exposition, making it easy to get into the story. It’s a pity that the awkward prose style gets in the way of the action. Long, rambling sentences, oddly punctuated by colons and dashes, occasionally lose their way: “Charlie and Rufus, debarred from going ashore themselves – they could not just hang about in the dockyard without being attached to a vessel and there had been nowhere else for them to reside.” Characters are often “sat” instead of “sitting”. In the clumsy love scenes between John and Emily one can only wonder what parts of the heroine tingle when her “extremities” give her sensation, and note that the same organs tingle for John when he shakes hands with his new employer.
But for lovers of a sea-yarn there’s plenty of salty business, both aship and ashore. The “blue-water” adventure in this installment doesn’t start till over halfway through, when John accepts a lucrative commission to sail a cargo of contraband from Gravelines to Sandwich. The author knows his 18th-century sea lore, and it’s on the ocean that the book is strongest.